The Independent Review of NHS Hospital Food was released in October and has been produced by a number of experts from across our industry, as well as Prue Leith, who acted as an independent advisor.
It was great to see such acknowledgement of the importance of food that surrounds the NHS, from catering for patients, to visitors and NHS staff.
Now, more than ever, this rings true as we work our way through a global pandemic - this period has shone a light on the importance of good nutrition and health.
We all know that a balanced diet has a huge impact on our wellbeing and that food can aid recovery and care, so now more than ever seems like the time to put more emphasis on the work we and others across our hospitals do.
The report makes some solid recommendations across a range of subjects, that service providers and NHS Trusts will now be looking to implement to make the food and beverage offers even better.
This report alongside the Obesity Strategy and the Hospital Food Standards due next year are helping move things further in the right direction.
The report is right to acknowledge that the spectrum we’re catering for is huge and there is no doubt that there are challenges in its delivery. Not only does it touch on provision for NHS staff, who work long shifts often at unsociable hours, but we’re often also feeding visitors to the hospitals plus, of course, providing meals to patients.
Some of these patients have specific medical diets and all need help with recovery; but we’re also catering for vegans and vegetarians, meeting cultural specifications plus many more specific needs.
We’re also dealing with a complex network of hospitals, that all have different facilities and are working to various budgets. It’s not a one size fits all solution and that’s why it’s great to hear that the majority of patients are satisfied with the meals they are provided. Whether it’s an inhouse service or an external partner, we’re working to overcome these obstacles.
The report looked at the four things that successful hospitals have in common:
- They adopt a ‘whole-hospital approach’. This means integrating food into the life of the hospital – treating the restaurant as the hub of the hospital, where staff and visitors eat together; the Chef and catering team are as important as other team members; and food is considered as part of a patient’s care and treatment.
- They have a chief executive who leads the change and understands the value of food and nutrition.
- They concentrate on the things patients and staff care about; good food, varied choice and an attractive environment.
- They have integrated multi-disciplinary working; bringing together catering, dietetics and nursing to help improve nutritional outcomes for patients, and to ensure that staff well-being is prioritised with nutritious food and drink available on-site at all times.
This shows that hospitals need to have food high on their agenda, and this is a belief we’ve held for some time and which we help our partners to implement.
We endeavour to have a partnership approach, which is the only way our service can truly have the impact it needs to. It helps us develop an understanding of what is needed and how we can work together to achieve it.
We provide hospital food at over 20 NHS Trusts across the UK, using our Cuisine Centres to produce six million Steamplicity meals every year.
Our development chefs create breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks that utilise the unique micro steam cooking system, enabling fresh and raw ingredients to be cooked and served within minutes. This means maximum nutrition is retained, whilst also offering flexibility and consistency.
The report acknowledges that the use of fresh ingredients is imperative, and we agree this is where the nutritious value comes from. The menus are designed by dietitians and chefs and are based on consumer research to keep the patient at the heart of what we do.
We recently commissioned our Putting Patients First food survey, speaking to nearly 800 patients across seven hospitals, which showed us the most important factors to consider when creating meals patients want to eat and this has helped us shape our hospital food research and development since.
There was a wealth of information emerging from the survey, both in terms of patient experience and priorities, exploring taste, choice and temperature.
I’m happy to see that many of these themes are reflected throughout the review, with several issues around the service of food highlighted.
For example, we agree that set meal times can be problematic in a hospital and that cooking meals as close as possible to the patients is important.
The last leg of the food journey from the kitchen to the patient, is where it can easily fail so we have produced guidance for our teams in line with the Hospital Caterers Association’s ‘Last Nine Yards’ initiative, where multidisciplinary teams at ward level work together to make sure that the meal service to patients works as well as possible and to ensure an excellent experience.
Patient meal ordering is also highlighted. We encourage ordering on the day of consumption, and we enable patients to order close to the times meals are actually served, which we have found greatly reduces waste too.
In many of our contracts we use tablets to make this efficient and easy – something we will be looking to invest in further in the future. We also agree on the importance of sourcing more British food and we are taking strides towards achieving that, with most of our products now coming from within the UK.
Whilst we feel we’re already tackling some of the issues highlighted, we are always looking at how we can improve.
We will be looking at the eight recommendations produced by the Hospital Food Review and assessing how we work to move forward and make suggestions for the future.
This will include a thorough assessment of our data, as well as conducting review groups to gather more qualitative information. We’ve also been reviewing lessons learnt from Wave One of the Covid-19 crisis, which will feed into any endorsements.
As a starting point, for example, we will be looking at the environment in which the patients eat, offering enhanced training to our people on key elements to consider.
These include points such as whether the meal been presented nicely, checking that the patient does have access to all the relevant cutlery and condiments, and that everything is to the highest of standards in relation to cleanliness and presentation.
The report also touches on communication between the caterers, nursing teams, dietitians and other associated groups. At Trusts where food and diet are seen as part of a patient’s recovery, it is a more positive experience for the patient.
To achieve this a joined-up approach is needed and it’s recommended that setting up a food and drink steering group with representation from different disciplines would help. This is clearly a key to success.
We also support the important role that dietitians play and although we have our own experts, further investment resulting in more dietitians in post in hospitals would be welcome. We work with a couple of contracts that already do this and their contribution is so valuable.
Importantly, there was a clear signal that following the review, a suitable implementation plan must be managed by a small expert group to demonstrate progress and change.
I couldn’t agree more that these changes have to be meaningful and monitored, so that we can reflect on what’s working. That way we can continue to improve our vital work, supporting the NHS by providing great food and drink.